American Bar Association questions ‘Israel’s’ designation of six Palestinian civil society orgs as ‘terrorist’

The ABA schools Israel on international law regarding the military’s decision to silence widely respected Palestinian voices.

BY JEFF WRIGHT  

SAHAR FRANCIS, THE DIRECTOR OF ADDAMEER, A PALESTINIAN PRISONERS RIGHTS GROUP, WHICH IS ONE OF THE SIX PALESTINIAN ORGANIZATIONS DESIGNATED “TERRORIST” BY THE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT. FRANCIS IS PICTURED IN HER OFFICE IN RAMALLAH, IN THE OCCUPIED WEST BANK. DECEMBER 2021. (PHOTO: YUMNA PATEL)

In what must have come as a surprise to Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the American Bar Association (ABA) has now weighed in on Israel’s designation last year of six Palestinian civil society organizations as “terrorist.” On behalf of the ABA, its president, Reginald M. Turner, wrote in a letter to the prime minister dated April 22, “We request that you review the concerns some in the international community have expressed questioning whether the procedures utilized [in making this designation] inappropriately deprive persons or organizations of their rights.”

The American Bar Association is the world’s largest voluntary association of attorneys
and legal professionals, “committed to… advancing the rule of law throughout the United States and around the world,” according to its website.

In the ABA’s letter to Bennett, Turner wrote, “Advancing the rule of law is one of the ABA’s four goals, the objectives of which include working for just laws, including human rights and a fair legal process; assuring meaningful access to justice for all persons; preserving the independence of the legal profession and the judiciary; and holding governments accountable under law.”

The six targeted organizations are Al-Haq, Addameer, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees. As Turner wrote, “A number of organizations and officials have expressed concerns that these designations have been made on the basis of vague or uncorroborated allegations and target legitimate human rights activities.”

The ABA letter didn’t address the discovery that mobile phones of some of the Palestinian organization’ staff members had been previously hacked by sophisticated spyware made by Israel’s NSO Group, but a post on the European Union’s website cites a report by Front Line Defenders and charges that Israel’s designation was “premised on ‘secret evidence’ and information obtained using unlawful means… part of an ongoing institutionalised Israeli campaign of persecution and attacks to criminalise the organisations and cut off their sources of funding and support from the international community.”

Israel has provided no public evidence of its charges against the organizations, but has insisted that it has provided such evidence to the White House. When asked about the U.S. response to this attempt on Israel’s part to silence Palestinian human rights organizations, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has repeatedly equivocated, saying that the State Department is looking into the charges.

The letter calls attention to Israel’s biased court system. The American Bar Association has thus added another respected voice to the growing criticism of Israel’s apartheid laws, policies and practices and, by extension, to the silence of the U.S. State Department on this matter. 

REGINALD M. TURNER JR., AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT

While the ABA “takes no position on the ultimate culpability of the designated organizations,” Turner wrote, “procedural rights guaranteed under international law would suggest that authorities should disclose to those organizations or their counsel the evidence on which the allegations are based to permit them to prepare a proper legal defense.”

“Organizations should not forfeit their rights simply because they are accused of engaging in terrorist activity. Those charged are still entitled to the presumption of innocence,” the ABA letter asserts. “International law accepts that the requirements of a fair trial may be modified in counterterrorism matters and that states may have recourse to special courts, particularly military courts. It is fundamental, however, that court procedures adhere to the principle of ‘equality of arms,’ a jurisprudential principle that obliges a court to ensure that neither party is put at a disadvantage in presenting its case by being denied access to evidence at the core of the case against it.”

In what can be taken as a reference to the secrecy afforded Israel’s military courts, the letter charges, “While a final appeal can be brought before the Israeli Supreme Court, this could be an inadequate protection since the organizations likely will not have had access to the evidence on which the military order was based, and there may well be no written decision or record for the Court to review.”

In response to attempts to reach Mr. Turner—in the hope that it might be learned how the issue came to the ABA’s attention, what moved the ABA to pen the correspondence, and what response the ABA has received to date—a member of the ABA’s media office responded, “The letter speaks for itself.”

Copied on the letter are: Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, IDF Military Commanding Officer
in Charge of the West Bank; Michael Herzog, Ambassador of Israel to the United States; Gilad Erdan, Ambassador of Israel to the United Nations; Thomas R. Nides, United States Ambassador to Israel; Antony J. Blinken, United States Secretary of State; Ms. Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

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